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Howard-Suamico linkage meeting looks at student wellness

By Lea Kopke
Staff Writer

SUAMICO – Community leaders and members of the Howard-Suamico School District’s leadership team gathered to discuss the social and emotional wellness of district students and families during a linkage meeting May 17 at the district office.

Community participants included representatives from local charities, churches, health care centers and other organizations.

To begin the meeting, Jennifer Garceau and Angela Buchenauer from the district’s Student Services department gave a presentation on the state of students’ mental wellness and the district’s current support systems.

Garceau said a district survey showed less than half of students feel their social and emotional needs are met, with the isolated high school data being lower.

“What we’ve learned is they’re not looking to adults, they want peer support and peer connectedness,” Garceau said.

The district uses a social and emotional wellness system with three layers of support: universal, targeted and intensive.

Universal support includes proactive instruction and student and staff training.

Targeted support includes behavior screening and programs created for specific demographics.

Intensive support includes providing mental health services during school hours.

For targeted support, the district has partnered with the Y, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Boys & Girls Club and GSAFE to provide programming specific to different student types.

The meeting then broke up into four groups to discuss what community leaders have seen regarding social and emotional health in the community and what they could do to support students.

Several leaders gave suggestions about areas the district – and community as a whole – needs to improve on.

Chad Janowski, executive director of the Einstein Project, said issues of racism should be covered and examined more thoroughly.

“Conversations around racism and equity tie very much into socio-emotional learning,” Janowski said. “The stress of the pandemic came to head with the stress of racism.”

Katie Hess, Big Brothers Big Sisters executive director, said for efforts in this area to be successful, students need to see representation in their teachers.

“If we’re not representative of who we serve, then we’re not serving properly,” Hess said.

Several community members said since the start of the pandemic, students were feeling more stressed and struggling to separate school from home.

“School time should be school time, and home time should be home time,” Hess said.

Jimmy McDonald, the pastor of New Freedom Church, said one local church made efforts to solve this problem by creating spaces online for a community where students could get away from the stresses of learning online.

Overall, Hess said the end of the pandemic should not mean the resumption of the same systems used before.

“We overschedule,” Hess said. “I’m terrified about going back to the way things were — things weren’t working the way things were.”

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